Saint of the Day – 16 April – Saint Drogo (1105–1186) – penitent pilgram, apostle of prayer and the Holy Eucharist, anchorite – also known as Dreux, Drugo and Druron, is a Flemish saint. He was born in Epinoy, Flanders in 1105 and died in Sebourg, France in 1186. Patronages – those whom others find repulsive, unattractive people, Baume-les-Messieurs, bodily ills, broken bones, cattle, coffee house keepers, coffee house owners, deaf people, deafness, dumbness, Fleury-sur-Loire, gall stones, hernias, illness, insanity, mental illness, mentally ill people, midwives, mute people, muteness, mutes, orphans, ruptures, sheep, shepherds, sick people, sickness.
St Drogo was a child of Flemish nobility. His mother died when he was born. He learned the reason for her death and it made an emotional impact on him. He held himself responsible. Later in his life, he went to extreme penances, perhaps to relieve his guilt. Drogo was orphaned when he was a teenager.
As Drogo approached manhood, he resolved to abandon his home and distribute his considerable inheritance to the poor. Whatever circumstances precipitated this sudden change, we may well imagine that Drogo was inspired by Christ’s exhortation to another troubled young man: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me” (Mt 19:21). Drogo kept for himself no more than the clothes on his back and entrusting himself to Providence.
He became a shepherd for about six years, working in Sebourg, near Valenciennes. Cherishing his simple life, Drogo passed much of his time in prayerful contemplation and gave to the poor most of what he received in wages or gifts. His humility, gentleness and generosity quickly earned the villagers’ admiration. A constant tradition has it that, while Drogo was out in the fields, tending his flock or deep in prayer, he could sometimes simultaneously be seen attending Mass in the village. This gave rise to a common saying, that reportedly persisted to the twentieth century, among the rural folk of that region, who, if charged with several onerous tasks, might protest, “I’m not Saint Drogo, I can’t ring the church bell for Mass and be in the procession!”
After six years in Sebourg, Drogo felt called by God to take up the pilgrim’s staff. Setting off on foot like the Apostles before him, he travelled to Rome where he visited the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul, stopping along the way at many other renowned holy sites in France and Italy. During his journey, Drogo occasionally used his skills as a shepherd to support himself and instructed other shepherds he encountered.
Some accounts speculate that Drogo believed that only the pope himself could absolve him of his part in the death of his mother. Although he never did meet the pope, Drogo pursued these peregrinations for nine years and nine voyages to Rome, each time returning briefly to Sebourg. Drogo gladly suffered the hunger, thirst, harsh weather and other incommodities and dangers of pilgrimage in pursuit of holiness. However, these restless years took their tol, and the weary pilgrim eventually made his way back to Sebourg for the last time, having developed a debilitating and disfiguring hernia.
His wandering days behind him, Drogo resolved to live as a solitary, still detached from worldly things. The parishioners of Sebourg helped him to build a small anchorite’s cell adjoining the parish church. From there, Drogo could adore the Holy Eucharist and hear the divine offices through a small opening in the church wall. Still in his early thirties, Drogo shut himself within and vowed to remain there for the rest of his days.
Despite this solitary existence, Drogo never refused the people who sought his spiritual advice or the benefit of his prayers; those who visited his humble cell always left consoled and edified. Drogo now sustained himself on little more than barley bread and water, if it happened that a kind visitor brought him some other food or gift, Drogo would give it away to the poor, keeping only what was strictly necessary for subsistence. Over time, Drogo’s painful malady worsened and he developed putrescent sores on his lower body. Even in the face of these trials, he never lost the gay and serene disposition for which he was known.
Drogo died on16 April 1186 (it is thought or it might have been 1189), having attained a ripe old age for one whose earthly existence was marked by illness, hardship and self-abnegation. Upon learning of his death, Drogo’s kin from Epinoy claimed the body, wishing to return it to his birthplace. The parishioners of Sebourg acceded to the request in accordance with the custom of those days. The body was thus placed in a fine casket and set on an ox-drawn cart. Yet it appears that God intended Drogo to remain in his adoptive home. Reportedly, as the procession made its way out of Sebourg, the saint’s casket seemed to grow heavier and heavier. At last the cart reached a point at the boundary of the village where it could no longer advance at all, as though obstructed by a supernatural force.
In any event, the attempt to repatriate Drogo’s remains had to be abandoned. The body was brought back to Sebourg to general acclaim and interred in the village church with rustic pomp. The villagers erected a cross on the spot where the ox-cart had been obliged to stop and although the cross itself has been replaced several times over the centuries, this simple monument still stands today in a field on the outskirts of Sebourg. Each year on Trinity Sunday, the modern-day villagers commemorate the event with a procession in which the saint’s reliquary is borne from the church to St Drogo’s Cross, preceded by the village children dressed as shepherds and shepherdesses.
Not long after Drogo’s death, accounts of miraculous intercessions attributed to his relics spread through the surrounding country and beyond and a stream of sick pilgrims made their way to Sebourg. The miracles multiplied and over time the crowds became so substantial, de Gruyse tells us, that it was difficult to approach the saint’s tomb.
By the time of his enrollment in the Martyrologium Romanum, Drogo had long been acclaimed a saint in his homeland by vox populi. In 1612, the archbishop of Cambrai ordered the formal elevation of Drogo’s relics at Sebourg. Confraternities dedicated to St Drogo are active today in Sebourg and Carvin, and in Cambrai he is invoked at an annual “Shepherd’s Mass” at which sheep farmers and their lambs are blessed.
St Drogo’s patronage has come to be associated with a variety of occupations and conditions. First, he is predictably a patron saint of shepherds and a protector of their flocks. Drogo is also a patron saint of expectant mothers, presumably due to his special sympathy and gratitude toward the mother he never knew. His physical malady has likewise made him a patron of those who suffer from hernias, kidney stones and other ailments of the abdomen, as well as of persons deemed physically unlovely.
Most notable in the contemporary popular culture of the English-speaking world, however, are the surprising identification of Drogo as the patron saint of coffeehouse-keepers and his association more generally with coffee. This might be dismissed as an apocryphal invention boosted by the coffeehouse boom of the past few decades, were it not historically attested. A Belgian almanac from 1860 shows that in Mons—just across the present-day Franco-Belgian border from Sebourg—Drogo had already been claimed by the city’s cafetiers (coffeehouse-keepers) as their patron.
Nevertheless, the origin of St Drogo’s association with coffeehouses remains mysterious; coffee was not introduced into France and Belgium until the seventeenth century. Some have ventured, tongue in cheek, that harried baristas might fittingly invoke a saint reputed to possess the mystical gift of bilocation. A more plausible connection may reside in a minor detail from some biographical sources – during his years of reclusion, Drogo took no drink but warm water. Perhaps also, the early coffeehouse-keepers of Hainaut marvelled at how the properties of the coffee bean are transformed by fire without being destroyed by it and were reminded of Drogo’s miraculous survival of the destruction of the church at Sebourg, when kneeling in prayer in his cell, he refused to leave during the fire – the Church was destroyed but NOT St Drogo’s abode.
Thanks to Crises Magazine for most of St Drogo’s beautiful story.